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There seem to be two main variants of English translations of Zechariah 9:17a:

  1. The newer one, of which the NLT is a prime representative:

    16On that day the Lord their God will rescue his people,
    just as a shepherd rescues his sheep.
    They will sparkle in his land
    like jewels in a crown.
    17How wonderful and beautiful they will be!
    The young men will thrive on abundant grain,
    and the young women will flourish on new wine.

  2. The older one, of which the new ESV translation represents well:

    16On that day the Lord their God will save them,
    as the flock of his people;
    for like the jewels of a crown
    they shall shine on his land.
    17For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!
    Grain shall make the young men flourish,
    and new wine the young women.

The meanings of 17a are significantly different in these two renderings. Is he talking about wonderful people, or a great, good God? What clues do we have from the structure of these verses or the grammar of the Hebrew? In particular, is 17a in a different tense and number than 16b and 17b, and how significant is this?

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Speaking biblical-theologically, this passage most certainly must refer to the beauty of Christ, regardless of which way it is translated. He makes his people beautiful with his own beauty. –  Kazark Jul 8 '12 at 2:04

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

tl;dr The Hebrew is also ambiguous.

In the Hebrew:

‏ (16) וְֽהוֹשִׁיעָ֞ם יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֛ם בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא כְּצֹ֣אן עַמּ֑וֹ כִּ֚י אַבְנֵי־נֵ֔זֶר מִֽתְנוֹסְס֖וֹת עַל־אַדְמָתֽוֹ׃ (17) כִּ֥י מַה־טּוּב֖וֹ וּמַה־יָפְי֑וֹ דָּגָן֙ בַּֽחוּרִ֔ים וְתִיר֖וֹשׁ יְנוֹבֵ֥ב בְּתֻלֽוֹת׃ ‎ (Westminster Leningrad Codex)

The words translated "How wonderful and beautiful they will be" / "For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty" are "כִּ֥י מַה־טּוּב֖וֹ וּמַה־יָפְי֑וֹ". These words mean "what is his goodness and what is his beauty", in singular-male. Thus, the ambiguity is already in the Hebrew: the goodness and beauty may refer to God, the people, or even the crown jewels.

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How lovely it is that the interrogative how/מַה can be used similarly an as exclamation in both languages! –  Susan Aug 5 at 11:26

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